travel becomes a memory
October 25, 2003.
may be the first time in history that a piece of technology is being
retired without something better to replace it'.
The era of
supersonic passenger flight ended on Friday, much as it had begun 34
years ago, with awestruck crowds, applause, and some tears. At 4.06pm
London time, on Friday October 24, 2003, British Airways flight BA 002
from New York landed at Heathrow airport, and in doing so, Concorde
passed into history.
On 2 March 1969, a BBC commentator watching the first Anglo-French Concorde
scream down a runway outside Toulouse announced the arrival of a new
era in air travel with the words: "She flies, she flies!"
A month later, hundreds of onlookers watched from the perimeter of Filton
airfield near Bristol when Concorde made her maiden flight in Britain.
Yesterday, the most common phrase among the 5,000 onlookers gathered
to watch the occasion was: "Isn't it sad?"
The arrival of the flight was the choreographed finale of a day-long
farewell to the supersonic jet. Within the space of seven minutes, three
Concordes, - two excursions carrying the winners of a BA competition
and BA002 - grew from dots in the sky to land in quick succession. For
those few minutes, Heathrow, which handles 60 million passengers a year,
stood still. Hundreds of airport staff, dressed in spotless fluorescent
jackets, could be seen forming an impromptu guard of honor as the planes
taxied to a maintenance hangar for one last glitzy reception.
On board the New York flight, which had departed from JFK airport after
passing through jets of red, white and blue water, were 100 of the sort
of passengers with which Concorde flights have become synonymous. There
was the Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, the model Jodie Kidd,
the broadcaster and supersonic veteran Sir David Frost and the actress
Joan Collins. All mourned the passing of what had become the transatlantic
shuttle of a wealthy elite, on which those able to pay $12,000 for a
return flight were served two different vintages of champagne and smoked
salmon with caviar for breakfast.
A few years ago, this day would have been unthinkable, when British
Airways was publicly stating their plans to keep the aircraft flying
for another 25 years. The beginning of the end came on July 25, 2000
when moments after take off from Paris Charles de Gaulle, a chartered
Air France Concorde, full of German tourists, crashed into a hotel.
September 11, 2001, and the terrorist attacks in the US were the final
nail in the coffin.
The Concorde was supposed to revolutionize the way we all traveled,
and the manufacturers had expected to sell at least 120 aircraft around
the world. In the end, only British Airways and Air France bought the
aircraft, with seven examples each. Far from ever becoming a common
way to travel, Concorde became the haunt of supermodels, businessmen,
What happens now? Its hard to pity the complaining supermodels,
who will now have to spend 6 hours crossing the Atlantic in the comfort
of a luxurious first class cabin on a 747. The sad part is the end of
the era of supersonic passenger travel; the Concorde having endured
years beyond its only competitor, the Soviet TU-144 which was
withdrawn from service well before the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The American example never left the drawing board. Perhaps even more
significant is that this may be the first time in history that a piece
of technology is being retired without something better to replace it.
Bigger, better, faster, has always been the progression, and the departure
of Concorde from our skies leaves a strange and empty void. Bigger certainly
exists. The Concorde only carried 100 passengers. Better is a matter
of personal taste and interpretation, but it is hard to consider any
of todays jets as better than Concorde. Faster? No.
Not even close.
The fastest commercial jets today fly less than half the speed of the
In fact, it need not have ended yesterday. Since British Airways announced
the end of Concorde service, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and its
effervescent chairman Sir Richard Branson, always one to rush in where
other fear to tread, have been campaigning to purchase the aircraft
from British Airways and continue the service. British Airways steadfastly
refused, and the British government declined to intervene, despite the
fact that the aircraft effectively belong to the British public; the
costs of the development having been covered by the government of the
day when orders failed to materialize. Obviously scared that Sir Richard
might succeed where they had failed, i.e. in making a commercial success
of the aircraft, British Airways preferred to allow the era of supersonic
passenger transport to end.
Goodbye Concorde. We will miss you.
© Stewart Mandy May 2003
*About the author: Stewart Mandy is an accomplished international freelance
journalist and travel writer. He is the Chief Editor of rolling pin
CRUISE magazine. He has been published in various print and online publications,
on a wide variety of topics including travel, hospitality, industry
specific topics, and current affairs. He is always available for worldwide
assignment, and all offers and story ideas will be considered. He can
be reached by email at email@example.com or via his websites at
Editors Note: One of the main reasons for retirement is that the
French refuse to issue an aviation certifacte for the Concorde or contine
to provide spares for it (which they alone control) and in the end an
old jet will need a lot of spares.
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